Books and Movies Reviews

American Beauty: the nuclear family in film

Today we are living in a time of increasing tolerance when it comes to alternative family forms, those other than the nuclear family. The nuclear family, made up of two biological parents and their children, is associated with the stability of the 1950s, when it was most prevalent. Because it is associated with stability it is assumed to be a superior family form, from which all others are deviant. The movie, American Beauty, challenges this assumption in its portrayal of two nuclear families, the Burnhams and the Fitts, and shows how the traditional roles of the nuclear family can damage family relationships and cause breakdowns in individuals. Even if these characters care for each other, the enforced roles of the 1950's nuclear family are stifling them and eventually leads to their own destruction.
The central character of Lester Burnham essentially fails at all the traditional roles of the father of a nuclear family, and since he has been socialized to think that these roles are his only purpose in life, he feels like a failure. Lester, the narrator of the story, speaks of his misery in life with the opening scenes. He is a white collar worker at an advertising company, a job which he loathes. He works in a cubical along side dozens of other people, each day putting on a song and dance for both his clients and his superiors. Thus, his job, though he believes it to be his necessary role as father and husband, diminishes his worth by crippling his self esteem; he is losing himself every day he goes to work. At home, his traditional role as head of the household is taken from him by his overbearing wife Carolyn, who controls the home and the dinner conversation. With his wife as head of the house, as well as a second breadwinner, he feels worthless.
This feeling of worthlessness leads Lester to a break down and down a destructive path that hurts everyone in the end. One day he decides he needs to change his life, and goes…

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